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State issues first fine under law cracking down on zombie homes

New York State law requires lenders and banks to inspect, clean up and maintain vacant homes during the foreclosure process.

A zombie home on Beebe Court in North

A zombie home on Beebe Court in North Babylon is pictured on Oct. 7, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

A New Jersey mortgage lender is the first to be fined under a New York law cracking down on zombie homes.

Mount Laurel-based PHH Mortgage Corp. was fined $119,000 for failing to maintain a vacant house in New Lebanon, in upstate Columbia County, state Department of Financial Services officials said in a news release issued Thursday.

State officials said the mortgage company did not maintain the home for at least 238 days after placing the property in the state’s registry of vacant and abandoned homes.

PHH Mortgage officials did not respond to requests for comment.

State Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo said in a statement the PHH Mortgage fine “puts banks and mortgage servicers on notice that if they do not maintain vacant and abandoned properties, they will be held accountable.”

A 2015 Newsday/News 12 Long Island investigation found that Nassau and Suffolk counties had more than 4,000 blighted homes. Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million in 2014 cleaning, boarding and demolishing empty houses, the report found.

A 2016 state law requires lenders and banks to inspect and clean up vacant homes over which they have authority during foreclosure actions. Companies may be fined as much as $500 for each day of a violation. The law was prompted by thousands of vacant, foreclosed homes — known as zombie houses — that have plagued communities across the state, but especially on Long Island.

State officials said Thursday they had “resolved” 497 complaints statewide about vacant and abandoned homes over the past year.

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